The Right to Inherit From a Spouse

You have the right to inherit a reasonable share of the estate of your spouse, regardless of whether your spouse made a will. There is a Bill currently before parliament to clarify the law in this area; until the Bill is passed, there will be considerable doubt as to what constitutes “a reasonable share.”

Esi’s husband died shortly after the birth of their second child. His adult nephew was the administrator of the estate, and told Esi that she had to lock up the house and all of their possessions until it was time to administer the estate. In the meantime, Esi and her children had to go and live in a small room in Esi’s family house, without any of the possessions which they’d had at home.

Esi’s husband’s nephew felt that it would not be proper to administer the estate too soon. He wanted to show proper respect to the memory of his uncle. Because of this, he wanted to wait for at least two years before administering the estate. This meant that Esi and her children had to live in a single room without their possessions for at least two years, and had no way of knowing how much of her husband’s estate would be given to them after the mourning period was over. Even though Esi would technically be inheriting from her spouse, the length of time and the uncertainty meant that her ability to care for her children was seriously impeded by her nephew-in-law’s approach to administration of the estate.

According to Ghanaian law under the PNDCL 111 Interstate Succession Act, in the absence of a will, the entire estate of the deceased is given to the next of kin, The compulsory beneficiaries are the children, spouse and parents of the deceased. The fraction of the estate distributed to each heir varies according to the number and categories of heirs involved in the distribution. The surviving spouse and/ or children are entitled to all the household property.

When Esi’s husband died, Esi and her children should have immediately inherited a reasonable share of the estate because they are the next of kin to the deceased. They also have the right to all the household property so they should not be deprived of their possessions and forced to live in a single room for 2 years.

Situation 2 – Witch camps

Emma is a 72-year-old who has been banished to a witch camp. After her husband died, there was a family dispute over the property of the deceased. During the negotiations of the division of the property, one of Emma’s neighbours fell sick and died suddenly.  The brother of Emma’s late husband blamed Emma for casting a spell on the neighbour and causing her to die. The rest of the family sided with the brother and forced her to leave behind all her possessions and move to a witch camp.

According to an ActionAid report on witches in Ghana (http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/ghana_report_single_pages.pdf%20%20)  70% of women accused of being witches are widows. It is often close family members of the deceased husband that make this claim so that the widow is banished and they can have her share of the property. This is a direct violation of those people’s right to inherit from a spouse.